County council to look at the cost of dying in Cambridgeshire and merger of coroner offices a possibility

Shire Hall, Chambridge.

Shire Hall, Chambridge. - Credit: Archant

Spiralling costs of running two coroner offices in Cambridgeshire – which this year are expected to top £900,000- are to probed for the first time by a county council scrutiny committee.

Their recommendations could lead to a merger of the two coronial areas in the county – excluding Peterborough which is covered separately- which each operate now with a part time time senior coroner.

Currently David Morris covers the south and west Cambridgeshire area whilst William Morris covers the north and east Cambridgeshire area.

Robert Jakeman, senior officer, told the resources and performance scrutiny committee yesterday that the service has “never previously been subject to a review”.

He hopes a sub committee will look at the current costs “and identify ways in which any burdens arising from new legislation can be identified.”

Although appointed and paid for by the council, the coroner is not a local government officer but holds office under the Crown, said Mr Jakeman.

Overall costs of running the service in Cambridgeshire includes £110,000 paid two years for the north east office (due to rise to £141,000 next year) and £421,000 paid for the larger south and west area (due to rise to £455,000 next year).

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Last year the number of deaths reported to both Cambridgeshire coroners who required post mortems totalled 454 male and 336 women. Totals including those without a post mortem were 375 for north east Cambridgeshire and 1,946 for the south and west area.

Mr Jakeman said there were major changes in the framework for running coroner services, some of which steam from the Shipman Inquiry of 10 years ago which revealed “a number of problems and inconsistencies in the services provided to bereaved families.”

There were also issues over death certification, lack of leadership and training for coroners and coupled with a shortfall in medical knowledge “meant that coroners were failing to provide a good service to bereaved families and the wider public”.

Mr Jakeman said legislation was now being enforced by which it was possible to have fewer but larger coroner areas which would mean economies of scale for local councils.

“The council has a crucial role in supporting the effective and efficient delivery of coroner services in Cambridgeshire,” said Mr Jakeman.

“While the coroners operate independently of the council, we have a duty to ensure that public funds are used prudently and efficiently.”